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Should pets be addressed as part of property division?

For many in Texas, the love for pets feels like the love for children and other relatives. Many people will spare no expense on ensuring that their animals have the highest standard of care and are comfortable and well-fed. Often, people will make accommodations for their "fur babies" that far exceed those made for human family members. When it comes to divorce, virtually no pet owner wants their beloved pets to become part of the property division process.

Unfortunately, that is what often occurs when a couple is unable to reach an agreement on how to share "custody" of their feathered, furry or scaly friends. Family law courts are not set up to address the unique set of needs of family pets, and it is the rare judge who will hear arguments about what is in the best interests of the animals. This leaves no avenue other than to approach the issue using the same rules that guide the division of marital property.

In this way, the party who paid for the pet, or who paid for the bulk of veterinary care or nutrition needs, will likely have an upper hand in court. That could result in an outcome that is far different from what is best suited for the parties or the animals involved. A far better approach is for couples to try to work out a solution on their own.

There are cases in which couples share "custody" of pets after divorce. The animals may transition between the homes on agreed-upon schedules. Other pet "parents" take less structured approaches, such as one party providing the primary home for an animal while the other takes on the task of providing care and boarding during vacations or work trips. Because courts are so poorly equipped to address this issue, virtually any agreement reached by parties on their own will be preferable to a decision made by a Texas judge who is following the rules of property division.

Source: charlotteobserver.com, "In divorce, who gets to keep the family dog?", Ben Steverman, May 1, 2016

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